Microsoft Corp’s WebTV Networks Inc has introduced the second version of its service, giving users faster download times, the ability to store data on a hard disk and slashed the price of its existing set-top boxes. The company has introduced a new box and service called WebTV Plus. The main difference users will see when it is made available later this fall is the ability to view television and the web simultaneously on a standard television, without the need for special picture-in-picture technology. WebTV has signed about 100 content providers who will provide programming for the WebTV Plus platform. Advertisers have also agreed to provide what the company calls TV Crossover links, whereby the users can watch the ad and get extra information about the product over the internet simultaneously. The viewer will be alerted if the program has any special web pages associated with it and the television signal can then be viewed within the web page. Content providers will need to alter their pages using WebTV’s own TVML HTML extensions. The picture-in- picture technique, which the company calls WebPIP, is achieved by a new chip called Solo, designed by WebTV and built by Toshiba America Electronic Corp that incorporates a 3D graphics engine. Perlman named the 64-bit part, which he says only costs $15, after his German Shepherd dog. The existing WebTV set-top box has had its price cut by manufacturers Sony Electronics Inc and Philips Consumer Electronics Co to $200 and for a limited unspecified period, WebTV is dipping into the Microsoft coffers to offer a $100 rebate through some retail channels. It is now calling the existing WebTV box WebTV Classic, somewhat prematurely. The new WebTV Plus boxes, will be made not only by Sony and Philips but also by Mitsubishi Consumer Electronics America and will cost less than $300, which almost always means $299. They are expected to ship within three weeks. The new box features a 56kbps modem from Rockwell International Corp and has a built-in parallel port supporting Hewlett-Packard Co printers, with support for Canon printers following later this year. The ‘Classic’ boxes require a $60 add-on port. WebTV has pledged to continue supporting and upgrading the WebTV Classic service, but there is no upgrade path being offered by the manufacturers, though Sony says retailers may offer something. Also new with the WebTV Plus system is a VideoModem cable modem for receiving high bandwidth data embedded in a conventional television broadcast signal. The company claims it can receive up to 1Mb per second without disturbing the video content. WebTV does not use the vertical blanking interval technique of pushing data over television broadcast signals as it says many cable companies will block the signal. The new box features a 1.1Gb hard disk from Seagate Technology Inc – an investor in WebTV. It will be used to receive bulk data downloads overnight comprising either video or web pages. The company figures the kind of users it is going after are not bothered about the information being bang up to date. It will also be used to store video clips supporting its own VideoFlash format or MPEG, although will be only for clips less than 15 seconds long at the moment. The overnight downloading service will be available early next year. The WebTV Plus box’s main processor, the 167 MHz Mips Technologies Inc R6460 is the same one at the heart of the Classic. The Plus box has 8Mb RAM. WebTV Plus supports the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) standard as well as the existing HTML chat.
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